Good And Evil Effects Of Various Food Substances


Concerning Meat and Various Kinds of Fish.

THERE is no article of food which more closely resembles our tissues than the meat of animals, and probably hardly any from which greater amounts of albumin can be so easily absorbed and digested by our bodies. It is, however, not really because of its nutritive value that meat is so greatly sought after as a food, since quite a number of other food substances, such as rice, possess even greater nutritive qualities than meat; cheese and cereals in the form of porridge also contain large amounts of albumin. A major reason is no doubt the presence in meat of certain flavoring substances, which are very stimulating both for the digestion and general health; but the greatest value of meat probably lies in the fact that the quality of the albumin therein most nearly approaches that of our own tissues, and even more so, in that meat, especially certain kinds of it, is rich in cell nuclei, which play a rôle of considerable importance in carrying on the processes of life.

The cell nuclei, and the nuclein contained therein, have been the objects of much disparagement because the purin bases and uric acid are formed by their disintegration; but were we to abandon a useful article of food merely because it exerts an injurious effect when taken in excessive quantities, we would not only have to give up a whole series of valuable foods, but abandon the use of our most effective drugs as well. Undoubtedly meat has the disadvantage of carrying into the organism more nuclein than perhaps any other article of food. It may be mentioned, in this connection, that these animal nucleins are supposed to have a more injurious action than those of vegetables, but we might also say that their value depends precisely upon the fact that they are animal nucleins. In certain kinds of meat, such as beef, we absorb more of such substances, as well as more of extractives and flavoring sub-stances, because, by virtue of the greater proportion of connective tissue present, less of these constituents is given off in the process of cooking. It is different in the case of veal, which is more tender and of a finer fiber, contains less connective tissue, and consequently gives off its fluid contents more easily. We therefore call beef, which contains more blood, dark meat, in contradistinction to veal, which we call light meat. Veal contains much water, and its appearance fully justifies the term light meat. Chicken also includes a good deal of light meat.

Meat in general contains a large proportion of water,—that of the adult animal rather less than that of the young. Thus, the lean calf has from 78 to 8o per cent. of water in its tissues, while the ox has only 74 to 76 per cent. If the animals have been fattened, however, their meat contains less water. This high water content alone is sufficient to prove the fact that not much that is nourishing is left in meat.

The valuable constituent of the meat is the muscle fiber. This is not very readily attacked by the gastric juices, since it is surrounded by a covering layer of connective tissue and fat. In the process of cooking, the connective tissue is trans-formed into a gelatinous substance, and digestion is thus facilitated. In addition to the albumin the fat which is absorbed with meat is also a very important constituent, for the nutritive value of meat is enormously increased thereby; in taking fatty meats such as pork and goose meat, a large number of calories are introduced into the body. In the following table are shown the nutritive values of the various kinds of meat, as well as the percentages in which they are assimilated in the body. By the aid of this table we are enabled to distinguish the most valuable of the meat foods. Persons having a tendency to obesity should avoid those meats which contain the largest amounts of fat.

As we may observe, the meat of the hare contains the most nitrogen, and consequently the largest amount of albumin. Usually, animals living wild show the greatest proportion of muscle tissue in their flesh, owing to their great muscular activity; they are also the least fat. While the pigeon has 22 per cent. of albumin, the fat, lazy goose has only about 5 per cent. ; on the other hand, the well-fed bird has 44 per cent. of fat, while the pigeon has only r per cent. The goose, however, yields four and one-half times as much nourishment as the pigeon, though its meat has the great disadvantage of not being readily digested.

The digestibility of meat depends greatly upon the manner in which it is cooked. When the elastic fibers and connective tissue surrounding the most nutritive elements have been converted into a gelatinous substance, by the cooking, the digestive fluids are better able to act upon them. When meat is suddenly subjected to a great heat, the albumin is coagulated. If it be placed in water which is boiling, very little of the taste-bearing substances and of the albumin are extracted. When roasted it becomes covered with a brownish crust, which prevents the escape of the juices; so that meat prepared in this way tastes very good.

Steaming, in which a gradual heating occurs, is also advantageous ; here, again, very little of the extractive substances are lost, since it is mainly the steam and not the hot water which cooks the meat. This process of steaming is one which is worthy of being much more frequently used than has been the case. In broiling directly over the fire, all the tasty constituents are likewise retained, but it may happen that the open fire will not soften the inner portions of the meat, and that the connective tissue will not be cooked through, thus rendering the meat more indigestible. With the broiling of chicken, however, in which there is but little connective tissue, this objection cannot be made. The digestibility of meat may be enhanced through its preparation in an inviting manner. If it is placed over the fire in cold water, and then cooked slowly, all the flavoring substances are extracted, and consequently but little digestive fluid is secreted, and the digestion is not well carried on. Raw meat is the most easily digested, but it must first have been well pounded, and then scraped or finely chopped, According to Jesser, 100 grams of raw meat disappear from the stomach in two hours, when half-boiled in two and one-half hours, when well boiled in three hours; if meat is half-roasted, three hours are required for the digestion, and, if well roasted, four hours.

Meat, in general, is very readily digested, and is well assimilated. Rauhe, of the 2 kilograms of meat used in his experiments, decomposed 108o grams, and, in the experiments of Rubner with quantities considerably over i kilogram, only about 5 per cent. of the dry substance and less than 3 per cent. of the nitrogen were excreted with the feces.

In regard to the assimilation of certain meats, the experiments of Uffelmann showed that pork was the poorest in this respect (with about 6 per cent. loss of the albumin) ; next came old beef (about 5 per cent. loss), and the best was venison (only 2% per cent. loss).

A certain influence in respect to the taste and ease of digestion of meat is exerted by allowing the latter to hang for a while, whereby, in very much the same manner as with vegetable foods, a kind of acid fermentation occurs in virtue of which the meat fibers become more tender, and are also softened by the small quantities of pepsin contained in the muscle tissue. If the meat hangs for too long a time, however, and is not kept at a very low temperature, putrefaction may set in, and, strange to say, most people love wild game the best, when it already has such a strong odor that it might be termed a stench. Americans of the wealthy classes prefer meat which has been kept hanging for a long time, and while I was staying in New York I was told that the guests of one of the very best hotels liked most to eat meat which had been hanging up for about six weeks.

In no other country is it customary to keep meat so long in cold storage as in America. The cattle is brought from the distant prairies to Chicago, is there slaughtered, and the meat afterward sent to all parts in special railroad cars with cold-storage chambers. In the cities where the meat is used it is also kept in cold storage. For fourteen days the meat keeps very well in this way, as far as the taste is concerned, as was found by Wiley, of the experimental laboratories of the United States Government. After that time it begins to lose its taste. Personally, I found that such meat tasted very good in the eastern part of the United States, while in Florida and in Texas, as well as in Los Angeles in California, it was very tasteless. By the time the meat had reached these places remote from Chicago, it had, after being kept on ice for a long time, lost all taste. Such meat is never juicy, and a great deal of butter must be used, in order to obtain a satisfactory amount of gravy. True, the meat which is transported—and afterward kept—in the cold-storage chambers does not taste at all badly, and that which is now sent from the Argentine Republic to Austria is said to be very good. It is quite different, however, with frozen meats. When meat lies upon the ice, all the taste-bearing elements are drawn out of it. In my travels in the far West of the Union, I often noticed how a negro waiter would take the meat from an icebox under the restaurant car, and it was certainly not surprising that such meat, which had already been kept for some time in cold storage, had absolutely no taste. In many parts of the United States and in Canada meat is kept frozen for some time, and while I was the guest of a family in Ottawa at Easter, 1907, we ate a caribou (a sort of elk, which is found in Canada) which had been shot six months before. Two days later we ate a turkey which had been killed in October, and had been kept frozen since that time. The meat was quite yellow and dry, and absolutely tasteless. Such meat must be eaten immediately after it has been thawed out, for just as soon as it is kept in a higher temperature it putrefies; in the thawing process the ice particles burst the tissues and the bacteria find a ready entrance. The moisture which covers the meat when it thaws also contains a large quantity of the bacteria of decomposition. Meat can be kept frozen for thousands of years and still be used as food. Thus, the mammoths found in northern Siberia by the explorers often formed a welcome food for these travelers and their dogs.

In order that meat may be kept a long! time, it is often salted, pickled, or smoked. Meat treated in this way is only satisfactory when no fresh or cold-storage meat is to be had. Smoked meat is sometimes better digested than ordinary meat, but the salted varieties, owing to their great salt content, are not to be recommended if the kidneys are in any way diseased. However, these meats are always to be preferred to the canned varieties, for very frequently antiseptic substances, which may prove injurious, are added to these, and usually, too, the meat of very lean animals is used for this purpose. The substances which are frequently added to meats to preserve their color and appearance include borax, boric acid, salicylic acid, etc. All these agents, even in minimal quantities, are injurious upon long-continued use, although after the use of certain of them in dogs no harmful results were noticed. The general health may gradually be unfavorably influenced when they are ingested over long periods, even though such effects do not at once follow after they have been taken either once or for some weeks. The majority of the diseases with which mankind is afflicted usually creep in through the accumulated effects of successive slight irritations, by the operation of apparently insignificant factors which are just sufficient to take part in some chemical reaction.

A remarkable thing about this is the fact that these added chemical substances may be injurious to the organism, and, yet, have not the power to destroy the poisons of pathogenic bacteria; this is also the case with the other preserved varieties of meat, that is, the salted, pickled, and smoked kinds. They may, however, prevent putrefaction and unpleasant odors. It is here to be mentioned, as we have previously stated, that in persons in whom the gastric juice is normal the germs of decomposition in the meat will not work any noticeable in-jury, and it frequently happens that decayed meat is taken with-out causing any great harm. Count von Pappenheim, in his interesting work on Madagascar, states that he has seen Hovas dig out and eat the meat of an ox which had died some days before; the meat was already quite green in color, but it did not have any bad effect, as they were not in the least ill. The gypsies living in Hungary often eat decayed meat without its causing any injury. Finally, we must observe that if decayed meat were to cause harm or to make us ill at once very few of the people who are compelled by circumstances always to eat in restaurants, and to stop while traveling in hotels of a lower order, could live at all. To be sure, meat is carefully examined in the markets, but no jurisdiction controls the question as to how long the meat is kept in some of the smaller hotels (we do not, of course, presume to generalize) after it has been cooked for the first time. One person may not be in the least affected by it, the next may escape with an attack of diarrhea, but, more often than is suspected, such products may injure the fine epithelia of the kidneys and the liver. Moreover, there may sometimes be developed in the meat—usually in chopped meats and sausage—products of the decomposing action of certain bacteria, toxalbumins, which are very injurious, and may prove fatal. While I was spending two weeks in St. Louis, four years ago, in the winter, several deaths occurred as the result of the eating of chickens which had been preserved for a long time; among others, a woman and her children died from this cause.

The bacteria of various diseases in animals often do not appear to cause any illness in man when the meat containing them is eaten. This is probably due to the cooking and the action of the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hutchison states that shepherds in Scotland ate for a long time the meat of sick sheep without being at all harmed, and Delcroix, of Paris, twenty-five years ago; gave to the poor the meat of sick animals, and even that of a dead dog,—the beneficiaries knew nothing concerning the origin of this food,—and no injurious results occurred. On the other hand, various authors report cases of fatal poisoning due to the meat of animals in which the spleen was diseased.

Many of the poisonous effects of meat may perhaps be ascribed to certain substances which the animals have eaten, such as poisonous herbs. It is an undisputed fact that the taste of meat is influenced by the food ingested by the animals. The best-tasting meat is that of cattle fed in the open. I have never seen finer meat than that sold in the butcher shops in Holland ; this is because in that country, owing to the prevailing dampness , the grass grows most luxuriantly. In England and Denmark, too, very fine beef is raised. Cattle thrive best and furnish the finest meat in a temperate climate, as in the Argentine Republic and the northern portion of the United States. In the South the meat is less good. The cattle do much better, indeed, in the northern than in the southern part of Texas. In southern regions where it is very dry, as on the Riviera, in the south of Spain, in California, etc., equally fine beef cannot be had. The taste of meat is also improved by castration. Thus, a Styrian capon has a fine taste, as do also the castrated chickens of Philadelphia. It is of the great-est importance that animals intended for our use should be carefully fed and bred. When animals are fed upon husks, beer-mash, etc., good meat cannot be expected. A chicken bought from a farmer has nothing much to commend it, but when it has been fed upon grain for one or two weeks, and in addition kept in so small a cage that the only movement it can make is to stretch out its neck to pick up its food, as is done in Belgium, it becomes very tasty, and is likewise very nourishing. In animals kept in the open air, especially sheep, the meat has a much more agreeable odor than is the case with those always housed up in stables.

In addition to the albumin and fat, meat also contains appreciable amounts of some very important nutritive salts ; thus, 42.50 per cent. of phosphorus and 40.3 per cent. of potash are contained in the ashes. There is also quite an amount of iron, but, taking it all in all, meat is not a food which contains a large quantity of nutrient salts; it is greatly surpassed by vegetables in this respect.

Of the various meats, beef is that which is chiefly used. While opinions are about evenly divided as to whether beef or veal is the more easily digested, I am inclined to give the preference to veal. It is more tender than beef. Of course, it is necessary that the calf should be properly fed; when it is fed upon milk, the meat is very white and fine. With regard to the uric-acid-forming substances, veal probably contains rather more of the nucleins than beef ; but when it is boiled, a greater proportion of the extractive substances passes out into the soup than is the case with beef. When veal is eaten roasted, especially the outer crusty portions, as in the roasted breast of veal, with the usual trimmings, it is likely to prove more injurious in regard to the uric-acid-forming properties than beef.

As a rule, for delicate persons and those suffering from various chronic affections, as well as for convalescents, veal is to be recommended in preference to beef, and during the cure at Carlsbad veal and chicken form very important elements of the diet. Lamb is much more indigestible, solely on account of its especial kind of fat, which has a very high melting point; this peculiarity, as we have previously mentioned, affects the digestion very unfavorably. Lean lamb would be more readily digested, but it is not very easily obtained. When lamb is not fat, it can be recommended, and will be well digested. With us, lamb is not much eaten, but a great deal of it is consumed in England and France. In addition to beef and veal we eat a great deal of pork, but the greatest quantity of this meat is eaten by the Chinese. The hog thrives especially well in their country, and when Chinamen emigrate to Java they take their favorite animals along with them. Like the duck among birds and the eel among fish, the hog subsists upon a very unclean diet. The difference consists, however, in the fact that the hog cannot help itself, as it is given this food by its owner. If al-lowed to follow its own inclinations, the hog is a much cleaner animal than is generally believed, and likes to bathe itself, whenever this is possible. Moreover, be the food ever so unclean, it is in a very short time transformed by the hog’s exceptionally efficacious gastric juice—probably the most powerful among all animals—into the animal’s own palatable body substance. Certainly this much-decried beast is worthy of better care by its owners, and of much cleaner food. The meat tastes the best when the animal is fed upon corn. Recently hogs have also been fed upon meat, of which they can consume a considerable quantity per day, and also upon fish. The latter diet, however, has the disadvantage of imparting a rather oily taste to the pork; for this reason no fish should be fed to swine for at least four weeks before they are put to death. Pork is a very nutritious meat, but is, unfortunately, quite difficult to digest, owing to its high fat content. While the muscles of the pig are hard to digest, lying surrounded by fat and connective tissue, the lard or bacon is more readily digested than many other kinds of fat. Bacon is a very useful adjunct in a diet which is poor in fat, and improves both the nutritive value and the taste of the food. In some countries it is customary, for the above reasons, always to add bacon to beans, peas, etc., as in America (pork and beans) and in France (petits pois au lard).

The most easily digested and the most highly prized food which we have from the hog—that animal which we only begin to like after it is dead—is ham. Many kinds of ham, such as those of Prague and of Westphalia, are world-renowned. Ham belongs to the class of most easily digested foods, and boiled Prague ham often forms an important part of the régime at Carlsbad. However, it is not well adapted for everyone ; its great advantage is its digestibility, but otherwise it has all the disadvantages pertaining to meat in general. While it is readily digested, and likewise well assimilated in the intestine, much uric acid informed from its decomposition products, and for this reason gouty patients should never take ham in the morning or evening, in addition to the meat allowed them at midday (which, indeed, it might also be far better for them to avoid). No matter how good the ham tastes, and how difficult it is for the physician, who would like to provide an agreeable diet for his patients, to forbid it, it cannot be allowed. Patients suffering from kidney disorders should not be allowed to eat ham on account of the quantity of salt which it contains (sometimes as much as 5 per cent., though in the Prague ham only about 2 per cent.). Almost every variety of meat should be eaten cooked, with but very few exceptions (as, for instance, scraped raw beef, from a healthy animal, in tuberculosis), but nowhere is this rule of greater importance than in the case of pork, owing to the danger of trichinosis. The trichinæ are very resistant, and withstand both the action of heat and the smoking process.

The meat of the chicken may probably be regarded as the most tender and most easily digested meat. The connective tissue is not present to the same extent as in beef, nor is there as much fat as in pork. The albumin contained in the breast meat of the chicken—the portion most to be recommended, though possibly not the most savory one—is fully exposed to the action of the gastric juices. This breast meat is the representative in the chicken of white meats in general, and, in order that it should contain plenty of the albumin, so necessary to convalescents for the reconstruction of their body tissues, the fowl should not be left to nourish itself upon worms, but should be fed upon grain, which is rich in nitrogen. Young, tender chickens are best digested, although they have not quite as much flavor; soup is best made from a full-grown fowl. The best tasting part of the chicken is the second joint, but only when the animal has been well fattened.

The turkey has some very excellent white meat. This bird had its origin in the United States (its long, curved beak somewhat resembles the nose of the Indians). In fact, it is also called “Indian” in some parts of Austria, especially in Croatia, where it is raised in large numbers. Its French name, “Coq d’Inde,” has been applied to it owing to the fact that, when, in the seventeenth century, the Jesuits brought this bird from America to raise it in France at their farm near Bourges, America was still called “The West Indies.” There is no animal which is slaughtered in such numbers at all festive seasons in the United States as the turkey, and in particular just before “Thanksgiving Day” there is a veritable hecatomb of these fowls. Nowhere in the world, either, can such fine turkey be enjoyed while traveling as in the Pullman dining cars in the United States, where the negro cook prepares it in a particularly excellent way. In the West, unfortunately, it often does not taste as good, because it is less fresh and has been lying on the ice for a long time. The meat of the turkey is more nourishing than that of chicken; it has about 2 per cent. more albumin and is much richer in fat than chicken.

The meat of the pheasant greatly resembles that of the turkey in nature and appearance. Next to that of the woodcock, it is probably the most delicious meat of all. It is fine and white, very rich in albumin, and easily digested; although, in the latter respect, chicken must take precedence over it. The very fine flavor of the pheasant’s meat may be due to the fact that it lives in the open, in young forests and clearings. Owing to its free life in the open air, and because of the often aromatically flavored food which it finds in the meadows and woods, the pheasant’s meat possesses a fine flavor and aroma. The meats of the partridge, heathcock, and wild duck also have an excellent taste. The meat of the young partridge especially is easily digested; that of the duck, on the other hand, is much less advantageous in this respect. In Holland very excellent wild-duck meat is to be had. Ducks seem to thrive especially well in Holland, where in the little city of Vollendam, which has only 3000 inhabitants, there are 800,000 ducks. The duck’s meat is dark-colored ; the muscle tissue is very compact, and consequently rather hard to digest. Duck is not to be recommended for feeble stomachs; the fat it contains tastes good, but does not increase the digestibility. By virtue of its content of albumin, that important nutritive substance, duck meat is, nevertheless, recommendable as a food substance, although we cannot precisely call it hygienic because of the frequently very unclean habits of the bird (which might be termed the hog of the feathered tribe), as also because of the inhuman way in which this fowl is often killed. While speaking of inhuman practices, we may as well take the opportunity to condemn as emphatically as possible the habit of the people of southern France, and many other southern countries, of eating small birds, and singing birds at that, those little beings which charm us with their song, and besides make themselves useful by eating the insects which are harmful to our growing vegetable-food products. What can be found so good in these tiny creatures which contain so little nutriment is incomprehensible to me. A larger bird, such as the pigeon, is much more nourishing, has a tender, easily digested meat, and is often eaten at health resorts, as with us in Carlsbad. It contains more albumin than the majority of the other commonly eaten birds ; very much more than the chicken and the turkey, though rather less than the duck. It is the poorest in fat be-cause, as we have already stated, being a rapid-flying bird, it makes much greater use of its muscles than do the other birds which we usually eat, and consequently does not lay on much fat. On the other hand, it contains the most sugar in the form of glycogen in its breast muscles, as shown by the researches of van’t Hoff, as this substance is required for the mechanical work of flying. The pigeon, indeed, affords an instructive illustration of the manner in which the muscles gain in bulk and also in albumin content, as well as of the loss of fat in the arm of the laborer who handles heavy weights.

The greatest amount of fat, among all the birds, is to be found in the lazy goose. A very large amount of fat is often present under its skin, but only a limited quantity of muscle tissue. For this reason the goose, not only among birds, but among meats in general, contains almost the smallest quantity of albumin. Its nutritive value, therefore, depends upon its fat. Since, however, the fat surrounds the muscles, the albumin is digested with difficulty,—and all the more so be-cause the muscle tissue belongs to the class of dark meats and the flesh has a very firm structure. A very useful portion of the goose’s body is the liver ; the Strasburg goose-liver patties are world-renowned. The ancient Egyptians, as has been stated by Wilkinson in his work describing their customs, were very fond of roast goose, which was never omitted from their festive meals, and it is possible that the preference of the Jews for these birds dates back to the time of their stay in Egypt. On the whole, goose is a fit food only for excellent stomachs. In fact, the same may be said of game in general. Game generally furnishes a hard, tough meat, much tougher than beef, and to make it more tender it is generally hung up for a time, as is also done with the pheasant, which must be allowed to hang for about eight days, until the meat becomes soft; the meat of the hen-pheasant, in particular, gets quite tender and is easily digested. Since the same procedure is resorted to with game in general, as with the pheasant, it is called in France “faisander.” The long period of hanging allows decomposition processes to be set up, acids are formed, and the meat fibers become softer and more readily digested. Meat treated in this way cannot, however, be considered a healthy food, for, while it may not cause any direct injury to the stomach, the decomposition products engendered are injurious to the intestines and, after their absorption in the body, to the organ-ism in general. Although some persons may greatly relish such meat, and not notice any unpleasant after-result, with the exception, perhaps, of diarrhea, nevertheless, such a habit may be the starting point of some disease process. We must here again call attention to the fact that the results of certain disease-producing agencies are very often not felt at the start, but are only noticed when more fully developed, possibly al-ready too late to permit of an absolute cure being attained. Care must be taken with game not to allow the blood of the animal to run out, as is the case with our domestic animals, in particular because these wild animals have often been chased and hounded before death, and are not in the same condition as those well rested immediately before slaughter. With hares it often happens, especially with us and in Germany, that the bladder is not promptly emptied, and consequently its contents impart an unpleasant taste to the meat; in Belgium and in France this matter is at once attended to by the hunter. Hare-meat, particularly when the animal is still young, is truly a “tid-bit,” and it is therefore not difficult to understand the eulogy of Martial

“Inter quadrupedes gloria prima lepus.”

The meat of the hare, owing to its high albumin content, forms a very nutritive food, like that of the deer, which is also not difficult to digest when the animal is still young (not over 2 years). Probably the best-tasting meat among the four-footed game is that of the wild boar, as I have frequently had the opportunity to convince myself. Another easily digested meat is that of young rabbits, which are unfortunately sometimes replaced in large cities by cats, though, while yet living, these two species of animals do not get on at all well together !